Alaska kills costly bridge that put end to ear­marks

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

bob­ble­heads in the me­dia change the con­duct of this Congress and make us less free un­der the con­trol of name­less bu­reau­crats,” he said.

Those in Alaska found the Wash­ing­ton fight mys­ti­fy­ing.

“An ear­mark is only the money spent in an­other guy’s dis­trict. That’s just po­lit­i­cal. That’s some­thing back East,” said Mr. Wil­liams, Ketchikan’s mayor.

Of­fi­cials point out that Alaska has been a state for about 50 years and is still build­ing in­fra­struc­ture across a gi­ant land mass, which is why so much fed­eral trans­porta­tion money seems to end up there. Most big state trans­porta­tion projects are built with 90 per­cent fed­eral money, with just 10 per­cent com­ing from lo­cal tax­pay­ers.

Bridge op­po­nents said that kind of ar­range­ment lends it­self to ex­trav­a­gant projects be­cause the state doesn’t have bear much of the bur­den.

An­other odd­ity of ear­marks is that Alaska has kept all of the more than $300 mil­lion se­cured by Mr. Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Repub­li­can who died in 2010. Most of the money ear­marked for the bridge has been spent on other state projects, but some $87.8 mil­lion re­mains in a fund.

Ketchikan of­fi­cials are in­tent on making sure that money is used to boost ferry ser­vice and make im­prove­ments at the ferry ter­mi­nals. They still think Wash­ing­ton politi­cians bun­gled the de­ci­sion-making. The bridge, they in­sist, was the right call.

“They’ll learn as soon as they get here and try to get across [the nar­rows] that bridge ac­cess is a very rea­son­able thing,” Mr. Wil­liams said.

Fu­ture of ear­marks

Many law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton, in­clud­ing Mr. Young, want ear­marks to make a come­back.

Mr. Boehner, be­fore his re­tire­ment last month, told re­porters he had been ap­proached by an­other House leader who was won­der­ing whether it was time to re­vive the prac­tice.

But with 180 mem­bers of the House hav­ing never served in a Congress with ear­marks, it might be dif­fi­cult to reim­pose them the same way.

Thomas A. Schatz, pres­i­dent of Cit­i­zens Against Gov­ern­ment Waste, which pi­o­neered anti-ear­mark­ing and pub­lished the an­nual “Pig Book” to high­light bad spend­ing, said the prac­tice hasn’t dis­ap­peared en­tirely and that some of it has been pushed be­neath the sur­face.

One prac­tice that popped up dur­ing the 2009 stim­u­lus pro­gram, which was sup­posed to be free of ear­marks, in­volved key law­mak­ers send­ing let­ters to agen­cies out­lin­ing how they wanted to see money spent. The im­pli­ca­tion was that agen­cies’ fu­ture bud­gets would de­pend on whether they fol­lowed or­ders. Op­po­nents called it “let­ter mark­ing.”

Mr. Schatz said the amount is much smaller than at the hey­day of ear­mark­ing but that there is still room for im­prove­ment.

New House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, has promised to re­think the cham­ber’s rules. One op­tion could be to ask law­mak­ers to make their com­mu­ni­ca­tions to agen­cies pub­lic.

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